Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Ruth Michaelson

Rampant forced disappearances in Egypt? How the combat is unfolding

For Egyptians, the risk of being snatched from the street and forcibly disappeared by the country’s security forces has never been greater.

In the first eight months of 2015, 1,250 people disappeared, according to a report by the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF).

In response, the organisation has created I Protect, an app that allows Android phone users to key in a code when they are being detained, which sends three text messages to contacts and an email containing the location of their arrest to the ECRF.

The group hopes the messages will aid a quick reaction during the first 24 hours of an arrest, key to stopping people being transferred from a police station to a larger facility, making them harder to find.

Mohammed Lotfy, executive director of ECRF, said: “Being able to speak out about the arrest of an activist or protestor in the first hours contributes to the person’s transfer from police to prosecution during the legal time from of 24 hours.

“This prevents their detention incommunicado, or worse their forced disappearance, and therefore reduces the risks of being subjected to torture or other ill treatment.”

Most affected are young people, especially students, in large Egyptian cities. A report by Amnesty International in July found that children as young as 14 years old “vanish without trace at the hands of the state”.

The report called forced disappearances, where the victim vanishes into a large security facility and is denied contact with their family or legal representation, “a key instrument of state policy in Egypt”.

Hundreds of people are thought to be secretly held in the national security agency offices in Lazoghly Square, Cairo, inside the interior ministry building.

Local threats

This is not the first time Egyptians have created an app to counter state abuses.

In 2013, a similar programme was created to alert the user’s contacts that they were being arrested at a protest – although this proved dangerous for those who were found by police to have the app on their phones.

Andrew Bossone shared this link

It’s so desperate in Egypt that this is needed: “App launches in Egypt to combat forced disappearances”

Disguised as a calculator on smartphone screens, I Protect alerts contacts and local human rights group when user is arrested
theguardian.com|By Ruth Michaelson

The developer of I Protect, who has asked to remain anonymous and has not been named as part of the project, explained that the app’s interface is designed to guard against this.

“After applying the settings, the app converts into a calculator – so opening the app just means you see the interface of a calculator,” he said. “Only the user can convert it from a calculator into the app by combining certain words and keys that they set themselves.”

State surveillance penetrates deep into the internet and phone lines in Egypt, recently sparking a growth in the popularity of encrypted messenger apps such as Signal or Telegram.

Yet the developer of I Protect says there is no need to encrypt the app as “we don’t save any data in a database, the data is shared between the user and ECRF only”.

I Protect is the latest in a series of warning apps tailored to unique local threats. India has recently seen the growth of apps designed for women, allowing them to alert contacts or the police if they feel they’re in danger from attack or sexual assault.

After being car-jacked in Kuala Lumpur, a developer created an app called Watch Over Me, which tracks a user’s car journey and sends an alert if they fail to check in at their destination.

But an app like I Protect can only provide a temporary solution to the problem of forced disappearances, as the Egyptian state does not acknowledge the problem exists.

The interior minister, Magdy Abdel Ghaffar, said in March that forced disappearances do not occur in Egypt. He claimed reports of alleged forced disappearances were often taken directly to the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), or to international institutions, who he accused of being allied with the banned Muslim Brotherhood group, to scare citizens.

The head of the NCHR, which has repeatedly demanded answers from the government about forced disappearances, recently resigned over what he described as “a lack of cooperation” from the state.

Tunisian Women are Waging a ‘Sexual Jihad’ in Syria? What’s this story again?

Have you heard of the harem of Tunisian sex-warrior slaves heading to Syria in order to give up their young bodies to the appetites of deprived rebels to fulfill jihad al-Nikkah  (“Sexual Jihad”)?

And are coming back to the country with bellies full of Jihadi babies?

You might not have read this, but probably you heard something in general.

For what seems to be a blind spot that people have when it comes to stories on Muslims and sex, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of Tunisian female warriors going to fight a holy sex war, according to Sana Saeed.

Sana Saeed, Senior Editor for islawmix, a project incubated at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, posted on World Policymic: Officials Claim Tunisian Women are Waging a ‘Sexual Jihad’ in Syria, But What’s the Real Story?

Sucks, I know.

Despite the lack of clear evidence of a sex war pandemic, this hasn’t stopped news media outlets all over the world from grabbing, expanding, and running with this story.

officials, claim, tunisian, women, are, waging, a, sexual, jihad, in, syria,, but, whats, the, real, story?,                   

Officials Claim Tunisian Women are Waging a ‘Sexual Jihad’ in Syria, But What’s the Real Story?                            © The Telegraph

In December, Lebanese news channel Al Jadeed reported that hardline and popular Salafi scholar Shaykh Mohamad Al Arefe, a loud and inciting opponent of the Syrian regime, had issued a fatwa (a non-binding religious opinion) allowing the gang rape of non-Sunni Syrian women by rebels.

Not only did the scholar vehemently deny expressing any such opinion, on Twitter and in later sermons (both links in Arabic), but the story was debunked by the Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah.

On March 27, 2012, the Pan-Arab news site Al Hayat, published a piece discussing the apparent crisis of young Tunisian girls and what was being referred to as “Sexual Jihad.” It claimed that the impetus behind this was another fatwa from Al Arefe, in which he urged young women to engage in the so-called sexual Jihad by offering themselves to the rebels. There was, however, no proof of this fatwa and those close to Al Arefe also thoroughly denied the cleric had ever made such a ridiculous statement.

According to the report, 13 young Tunisian girls had gone missing, believed to be in Syria engaging in the sexual Jihad. The story gained traction in Arabic social media circles when in a video, parents of one of the girls claimed that their 17-year old daughter, who had since returned home, had been brainwashed by friends with Salafi Jihadi leanings who told her to go to Syria to temporarily marry and have sex with rebels. Iranian news station Al-Alam also released a video claiming to be interviewing one such girl (Arabic).

While Tunisia’s Minister of Religious Affairs Noureddine El-Khadimi condemned such religious opinions, there seemed to be no actual evidence of anyone — Al Arefe or any other scholar — issuing such a decree.

In July, sexual Jihad popped up again in headlines when following protests by Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Rabaa, reports emerged — based on a questionable Facebook post — that female Brotherhood supporters were preparing themselves for sexual Jihad. Saudi-owned Al Arabiya, which supported the crackdown on Brotherhood supporters, was one of the first to report on the issue.

Sexual Jihad, however, didn’t go viral until last week when AFP and Al Arabiya were amongst the first to report that that in an address to the National Assembly last Thursday, Tunisian Interior Minister Lotfi ben Jouddou mentioned how young Tunisian women were being lured into a sexual Jihad in Syria, having sex with “20, 30, 100” rebels and were returning to Tunisia pregnant.

The story, like any story involving Muslims and sexy time, quickly caught on fire in the American press.

The Atlantic (“Tunisian Teens Are Helping Out Syrian Rebels with ‘Sexual Jihad’”),

TIME (“Tunisian Women Go On ‘Sex Jihad’ to Syria, Minister Says”),

Business Insider (“Tunisian Girls are Coming Home Pregnant After Performing ‘Sexual Jihad’ in Syria”),

The Global Post (“Tunisian Women on ‘Sexual Jihad’ Return Home Pregnant’: Minister”),

Jezebel (“Tunisian Minister Warns of Women Going to Syria on ‘Sex Jihad’”),

Huffington Post (“‘Sexual Jihad’ in Syria Cause Rise in Pregnancy among Tunisian Women”) and

The Daily Beast (“Syria’s ‘Sex Jihad’”) are amongst just few of the names of the media outlets that covered the story with great zeal and over-played images that would make the late great Edward Said convulse from horror and despair in his grave.

Despite the story having gained traction of the viral variety, and despite the concerns and facts expressed by Tunisian officials, there seems to be actually very little evidence to suggest that the so-called sexual Jihad is actually a thing (and Jihad al-Nikkah is not a thing in Islamic jurisprudence).

The story of Tunisian women returning from waging sex on holy warriors (thanks RT) in Syria impregnated with future warrior babies itself is, at best, just incredibly questionable and many, from the onset of the story’s break into the English press, expressed deep skepticism.

In a civil war that has had many ideological fronts, the most pernicious in this salience has perhaps been that of information.

Syria has been a cluster of misinformation, mis-attribution and propaganda.

O’Bagygate and Mint Press-gate are two of the most recent headlines to highlight the problems in not only reporting on the conflict but also how easily questionable, untrue, unverified information is gobbled up to serve ideological biases and wishful thinking.

Lauren Wolfe, director of Women Under Siege, emphasized in an email exchange that WUS, while unable to investigate on the ground, had looked into the rumors of a ‘Sexual Jihad’ sporadically over the past year and found “no hard proof of anything.”

She added:
“We’ve seen all kinds of horrors in this war though, so who’s to say whether this is happening too. Then again, we’ve also seen massive amounts of propaganda tainting both sides in this conflict. So who’s to say this isn’t more of that?”

Ruth Michaelson, a freelance reporter who spent time in Syria in September 2012 and has written extensively about the role of sexual exploitation in the conflict, not only expressed concern, in an email, over the veracity and strangeness of the story, but also the several long-standing racist Orientalist tropes being pulled together into the story:

“The first thought that struck me on this is that now that Western media has exhausted the vein of “female refugees being…exploitatively married to men from the Gulf”-type stories, this is the new wave.

It seems like there has to be a story in the Western media that plays into the dynamic of sexually rampant Arab men and submissive women, and this is the 2.0 version.

As with the 1.0 version it’s not to say that there is not a problem. In the case of sexual exploitation of women in refugee camps, there are definitely problems happening, but the framing of the issues in the media made it sound like a pandemic of uncontrollable sexual violence.

This was actively unhelpful- it made the…occurring problems more difficult to locate and discuss sensitively [and] it also was framed in the media in a way that directly disenfranchised and silenced Syrian women, portraying them as unending numbers of mute and stupid victims of sexually voracious men… “

The sex Jihad story playfully weaves together a history of fatwa misreporting (like the famous faux phallic fatwa), haphazard research and knee-jerk reactions (the Queendom of Saudi Arabia debacle, the Yemeni child bride hoax and the guy too handsome for, again, Saudi Arabia) and a weird, uneasy obsession with Muslims and sex. It especially feeds on the trope of Muslim women’s bodies as disposable for the unquenchable appetites of Muslim men. This in turn also obscures the agency of Muslim women in sexual relations — as ones to only ever serve males.

Michaelson additionally asks:

Why would women coming into Syria prioritize sexual favours when there is a large body of evidence showing that there are female fighters on the ground?

So what then can we make of the Interior Minister’s statements?

Dismissing them is not an option, yet questioning them certainly is as ultimately we don’t have enough details about the story from the source itself, Ben Jeddou, whose information more than likely came from within the intelligence service in his ministry and not (hopefully) from online gossip sites.

How did these young girls, some allegedly as young as 13, get out of Tunisia, into Syria, out of Syria (pregnant) and back into Tunisia with what seems to be ease? Why are only Tunisian women being sent to wage this sex war? Why not Pakistani? Chechen? Libyan?

Who is escorting these women? Or are they traveling alone and if so how and where are they getting across the borders into Syria?

What we do know is that, according to the Tunisian government, at least thirteen Tunisian girls are missing, several hundred Tunisian men have allegedly gone to join Syrian rebels, several thousand have been stopped from going to Syria and we know that sex (especially in terms of sexual violence and exploitation) is an inseparable part of any conflict and war.

Yet the near exclusiveness of only Tunisian young girls being groomed for a holy sex war brigade (perhaps unwittingly building on the stereotype of North African women amongst Gulf/Levantine Arabs), the lack of evidence and corroborating reports from journalists, aid workers and activists on the ground in Syria, false fatwas and the history of delegitimizing groups, ideas and movements through accusations (whether these are true or not is irrelevant) of ‘sexual deviance’ (i.e. Here, here and here) call into question how this story is being used by the Tunisian government itself.

After all, it has a strong interest in countering the growth of Salafist ideas and sympathies within its own borders.

When it comes to stories that involve Muslims and sex, international news media are quick to publish and gloat about the varying ways in which Muslims (by extension generally any and all brown folks) are so incredibly sexually repressed that they resort to sexual deviance, which is always at the expense of their women.

The words sex and Jihad are two SEO-happy terms that elicit strong emotional responses and outrage as well as clicks and news-makers are well aware of this. Instead of putting in some time to verify information or, at the very least, offer cautionary language most, if not all, American news media reported the sexual Jihad story as the hard (no pun intended), cold, exploitative truth. As I’ve written elsewhere:

“Predisposed ideas and conceptions of Muslims and of gender relations in the Muslim world and Muslim countries make it easy for sloppy and reactionary journalism to gain momentum. They love to publish it, and we love to read it.

There’s something wrong with this equation, but we still continue to gobble it up every time it’s thrown in our collectively gawking face.”

And lo, we gawk on.

Note 1: Looking for hard proofs and factual evidence? Like usage of chemical gas? And ending in controversial conclusions and interpretations? Is one case a good enough fact?

Note 2: Currently, Tunisia has enacted firm laws and taken a strong stand against allowing its citizens to go to Syria. Tunisia had experienced the consequences of Tunisian Jihadist returning to their homeland and resuming what they learned in Syria.

The same process is taking place in Saudi Arabia, England, France, the USA… All of them realized that a Jihadist is always a jihadist when he returns home and prohibiting those who fought in Syria from even returning home, or face extended jail terms and denying them citizenship status…


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March 2021
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